As construction commences on Howl-O-Scream 2013 at Busch Gardens Tampa, the creative team behind the annual eerie event gave a special presentation during this past weekend’s Halloween Extreme convention in Orlando, offering no direct details about this year’s haunts but slyly sneaking a few hints in for those paying close attention.
The presentation was given by Howl-O-Scream creative director Scott Swenson along with cohorts Robbi Lepre and Alex Crow, going into the gory details of how Busch Gardens has organized the event year after year.
Here’s a bullet-point breakdown of a few new details about Howl-O-Scream 2013 spilled during the presentation:
- The Dark Side of the Gardens theme seems to be disappearing this year after being introduced in 2011, repeating last year. The presentation reviewed icons of the past, successful and otherwise, and the event’s creators hinted that 2 years was enough for one overall event theme.
- The Nightshade Toy Factory haunted house is (finally) being retired. This maze was inventive when it debuted in 2009, but after 4 event years, it’s now being deconstructed.
- The Alone haunted house concept should return this year in some form. Swenson was proud to say last year it was rated in the top 13 best haunted houses worldwide and the only United States maze on the list, but declined to elaborate on what form it will take this year.
- Due to popular demand, there will be two Howl-O-Scream stores this year, the primary Shop of Horrors and a secondary store elsewhere in the park.
Swenson noted Busch Gardens operates on a similar principal as the original theme park haunters, Knott’s Berry Farm, in that they like to bring back favorite mazes year after year. When asked why some haunted houses stick around for several years while others have shorter lives, Swenson elaborated that guest reactions and popularity dictate those decisions. He gave the example of the DED sorority house not performing well the first year, even worse the second year, and then getting canned, while others have resulted in many years of “sequel” houses, holding up with every visit.
Here are a couple other noteworthy details about the event:
- Howl-O-Scream creators are proud of most of their icons and haunted house themes, with one unanimous exception: My X. While evil rocker Sylvie grabbed attention in 2010 Howl-O-Scream commercials, Swenson and crew admit her haunted house was one of the worst in recent history, with a late blooming story never becoming fully realized beyond the ad campaign.
- Busch Gardens uses a lot of outside artists, vendors, and fabricators to create Howl-O-Scream, even mocking up entire new haunted houses off site to test them. Their real estate for mazes in the park is limited and they can’t set up all of their houses year-round, so concepts are worked out elsewhere. But the creative team works hand-in-hand with the outside vendors, never handing a project off and having them create it. They simply need additional production assistance beyond their internal capabilities.
Among the most interesting behind-the-scenes topics addressed during the presentation were haunted house design and costuming, as detailed design books and silicone masks were passed around the audience to inspect up close while Swenson and the team discussed how the event is created, beginning with concept photos from real life locations, moving into a detailed breakdown of each show element for each corner of every maze, and ultimately drawn into full layouts and elevation renderings.
Unfortunately photography was not permitted of their design books, but some imagery from them was projected to share from last year’s new Blood Asylum maze.
Handling Howl-O-Scream masks definitely produces a newfound respect for the actors who wear them throughout the long, hot hours inside those haunted houses. The masks are heavy, sticky, and rather smelly – all part of the job of haunting. When creating the masks, mesh is used underneath the layer(s) of silicone to help actors breath, but the thick gooey material is still cumbersome.
Howl-O-Scream 2013 will officially begin its season on Friday, September 27, 2013, with the annual “Freaky Preview Weekend” taking place the weekend before, starting September 20.
More photos from the Howl-O-Scream presentation at Halloween Extreme 2013: